Tamil Nadu sends documents to US-based museum, auction company for retrieval of 2 stolen Idols

According to a press statement, the idol wing has dispatched legal documents establishing the legal ownership of Tamil Nadu state over the bronze idol of Somaskandar and Dancing Sambandar that was stolen over 50 years ago from Arulmigu Vishwanatha Swamy Temple, Alathur Thiruvarur District.

ANIUpdated: Wednesday, October 26, 2022, 03:16 PM IST
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ANI

Chennai: The Tamil Nadu government's idol wing CID has prepared and submitted papers to a US-based museum and an auction company claiming ownership of two idols that were stolen over 50 years ago from the Vishwanatha Swamy Temple in Alathur in Thiruvarur district.

The papers have been submitted for repatriation of the same to Tamil Nadu.

According to a press statement, the idol wing has dispatched legal documents establishing the legal ownership of Tamil Nadu state over the bronze idol of Somaskandar and Dancing Sambandar that was stolen over 50 years ago from Arulmigu Vishwanatha Swamy Temple, Alathur Thiruvarur District.

The Idol Wing traced the Somaskandar idol to Freer Sackler Museum, Washington DC and the Dancing Sambandar to Christies.com USA. The stolen Dancing Sambandar was sold by Christies in 2011 for USD 98500, equal to Rs 81,54,893.80, the press statement read.

On February 28, 2017, Tr.S. Nagarajan Inspector, H.R. & C.E, submitted a complaint to the Vikarapandiyam PS Chennai stating that three antique metal idols belonging to Arulmigu Vishwanatha Swamy Temple, Alathur Thiruvarur District had been burgled by unknown miscreants. He requested the police station to conduct the necessary investigation and recover the stolen antique metal idols belonging to this Temple and place it for public worship at this Temple.

Accordingly, a case was registered under sections U/s 454 (2), 457 (2) IPC of Thiruvarur District, Tamil Nadu. The case was later transferred to the Idol Wing CID and DSP Tr Chandrasekaran of IWCID Kumbakonam was nominated as the Investigating officer.

The investigator visited the Crime Scene and examined the defacto complainant Tr. Nagarajan and diverse witnesses. The investigation regarding the burglary of three antique metal idols led to their detection at foreign Art Gallery i.e., the LACMA Museum, Los Angeles.

When the investigation of the idol wing disclosed that the miscreants had stolen the original idols and in their place, had left behind fake replicas. There arose suspicion in the minds of the temple officials that the other six idols of the temple would have met with a similar fate, and they requested the Idol wing to investigate the other idols as well.

Subsequently, the Idol wing traced the idols of Yoganarasimha and Ganesha belonging to Arulmigu Vishwanatha Swamy Temple, Alathur Thiruvarur District, recently to the Nelson-Atkins Museums, Kansas City, Missouri Further investigation of the bronze idol of Somaskandar and Dancing Sambandar that was stolen over 50 years ago from A/m Vishwanatha Swamy Temple, Alathur Thiruvarur District was taken up by the Idol wing.

As no images of the original idols were available with the temple authorities nor in other records. The idol wing decided to check if any photographs or documents were available with IFP (French Institute of Pondicherry).

The investigator, therefore, approached the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) and requested it to furnish the Photo images of the idols taken and documented by them in respect of this Temple. After obtaining the pictures of the idols of the Temple, the wing formed teams to search for the idols worldwide in the museums/ art galleries, auction houses and brochures of private collectors.

After an extensive search, the Idol Wing was able to locate idols similar to the Somaskandar on the website of Freer Sackler Museum, Washington DC and the Dancing Sambandar on the website of Christies.com (an auction company engaged in selling antiquities artefacts).

Further, the photo images of the idols resembling Somaskandar and Dancing Sambandar belonging to Arulmigu Vishwanatha Swamy Temple, Alathur Thiruvarur District displayed in the galleries of the Freer Sackler Museum Washington DC, USA and Christies.com were downloaded and the experts were requested to study the images downloaded from the museum website with the images obtained from the Indo -French Institute, Pondicherry.

The experts after a thorough study opined that photo images of antique Somaskandar, and Dancing Sambandar and idols taken by IFP, Pondicherry and the image of Somaskandar downloaded from the Freer SacklerMuseum, Washington website and the image of Dancing Sambandar from Christies.com website were the same.

Therefore, the investigation of the IWCID reveals that the idols of Somaskandar and Dancing Sambandar and belonging to A/m Vishwanatha Swamy Temple Temple, Alathur Thiruvarur District displayed in the galleries of the Freer Sackler Museum Washington DC, USA and Christies.com were stolen and stealthily removed from the temple, about 50 years ago and replaced with fake modern replicas that are now available in the Thiruvarur Icon Centre.

This could be found out by physically verifying the photo images of the antique Somaskandar, and Dancing Sambandar of Vishwanatha Swamy temple taken by IFP Pondicherry and comparing them with the fake idols of the Somaskandar, and Dancing Sambandar which the miscreants left behind.

The IFP photos were taken on 15.06.1959, and the Vishwanatha Swamy temple came under the control of HR&CE in 1975. After the conclusion of the investigation, DSP Chandrasekaran of IWCID was entrusted with the task of preparing the MLAT.

As, the expert comparison has established that the antique Somaskandar Murti idol and dancing Sambandar displayed on the website of Freer Sackler Museum website and Christie's.com website was nothing but the corpus-delicti of the idol that had got stolen from Vishwanatha Swamy Temple, Alathur, in Mannargudi Taluk, of Thiruvarur District.

Given the indisputable facts, the Idol Wing CID was duty bound to take necessary steps for the retrieval of the antique. Based on the above findings of our investigation, the idol wing has prepared and submitted papers claiming the Tamil Nadu Governments' ownership of the idols for onward transmission to the USA for repatriation of the same to Tamil Nadu.

The Idol wing hopes to retrieve the idols and restore them to the Vishwanatha Swamy Temple, Alathur, in Mannargudi Taluk, of Thiruvarur District, under the UNESCO treaty soon from the Freer Sackler Museum, Washington and Christies.com USA and have all of them reconsecrated to the Vishwanatha Swamy Temple, Alathur, Mannargudi Taluk, Thiruvarur District. 

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